TOMS RIVER - Pinelands senior Andrew Schulz is one of the top 10 scorers in the Shore Conference, which is why his first-half foul trouble during Thursday's Class B South divisional game at Donovan Catholic was initially unsettling for the Wildcats.

Instead, with Schulz and fellow senior Anthony Diaz managing three fouls in the first half, Pinelands showed it is a team that runs deep and can win thanks to a renewed fervor on the defensive end.

Senior Luke Wiatrowski stepped up with 18 points and six rebounds and Schulz chipped in 15 points and six boards around the early foul trouble, but it was Pinelands' defense that stole the show in a 50-31 road win over the Griffins.

Pinelands limited Donovan Catholic to two points in the first quarter, 11 points in the first half and four points in the last seven minutes of the game - which included a Griffins basket just before the buzzer with the reserves in for both teams.

"I feel like we have been good defensively for most of the year," Wiatrowski said. "We have had some games where we had some letdowns in the second half and I think the last few games, we really defended well for four quarters."

Donovan Catholic cut a 25-11 third-quarter deficit to 31-25 by the end of the quarter and was within 34-27 in the first minute of the fourth quarter when Pinelands put the clamps on them. The Wildcats went on an 11-0 run to stretch its lead to 45-27, including 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.

Pinelands spent most of the fourth quarter on the foul line, shooting 13-for-17 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats won going away despite playing most of the first half without Diaz, its second-leading scorer, and the last four minutes of the half without Schulz - which came on top of a stretch between the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter in which Schulz sat with two fouls. Diaz (five points and three steals on Thursday) picked up his second foul in the first three minutes and his third with 5:49 left in the half.

"I told the other guys, 'We all need to step up,'" Wiatrowski said. "Our two best players were out, so they needed to step up, and they did. Arpit (Gainder), (Ryan) Skie, Kevin Cameron, (Andrew) Bartlett - they all gave us good contributions tonight when we needed it."

With both top scorers on the bench, Pinelands closed the half with four straight points and held Donovan Catholic scoreless by slowing down the pace on offense and suffocating the Griffins on the defensive end. Wiatrowski scored all four of the points, including a fadeaway jumper as time expired in the first half.

Schutz and Diaz were Pinelands' top scorers duo a year ago, when the 15-11 Wildcats improved by 12 wins after going 3-21 one year earlier. Wiatrowski did not factor into the equation much due to a knee injury that knocked him out for much of the season and limited him upon his return.

Now healthy, the senior has provided an extra source of offense and proved his value on Thursday with his two classmates battling foul trouble. Senior Garrett Brown also pitched in five points, nine rebounds and three steals in the win.

"It's good to have me back and healthy because I didn't have a good year at all last year," Wiatrowski said. "I basically tore half my ACL and it was tough for me to do anything the way I wanted to. This year, we know we are a good team and we can compete with anybody in the Shore and it's good to be a part of it."

Senior Matt Melon and freshman Amari Petty each scored 10 points to lead Donovan Catholic.

Thursday marked the beginning of the second half of the divisional schedule for the Shore Conference teams in action and Pinelands and Donovan Catholic entered the game in a three-way tie for first place in the Class B South standings with Jackson Liberty. With its win at Donovan Catholic and Jackson Liberty's home win over Point Pleasant Boro, Pinelands and Jackson Liberty are now tied for first place in the division with six games to go.

The Wildcats will host Jackson Liberty on Jan. 28 and will attempt to avenge a 56-51 loss to the Lions in the first meeting between the teams. Both programs are seeking their first ever division title in boys basketball.

"We still feel like we need to win out," Wiatrowski said. "Our division is pretty tough. We have Liberty still. Lakewood is always tough. We have to play Manchester away. Teams are going to come after us because we are the top dogs right now, so we have to be ready to play every single game."

 

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